New Blog!

I joined a new school system, Cumberland County Schools, after 5 years in Montgomery County Schools, NC! While still a middle school principal, this transition warrants a new start with new tools so I’ll start with my blog.

After a couple of frustrating hours of misreading some instructions, it was a pretty easy process to import my posts over. [I marvel at how I can make things unnecessarily difficult sometimes.] I’ll be customizing this new blog over the next couple of weeks to reflect my work and interest.

This is a cool opportunity, a chance to take stock in what I’d like to improve and build up some better processes. This is simply a new tool with the same commitment to sharing.

Looking forward to this new forward opportunity!

Small Group Meetings at New School

I’ve just completed my second full week as the new principal of Spring Lake Middle in Cumberland County Schools [my new district]. There is always a lot to digest in a new move like this with learning new people and processes.  Interestingly, I’m realizing that while having previous experience as a principal is a plus, it also raises more questions in new situations than provide answers! But this is all in good process! This the great part of the journey – asking good questions and working together on great answers.

I’ve been rereading ‘Leaders of Learning’ from DuFour and Marzano. Recent conversations with SLMS staff members and personal friends prompted me to revisit some key points on supporting collaboration, culture and moving students. I got a great idea from chapter nine of the book. A new principal met her staff in small groups and asked 3 key questions. I implemented this inspired innovation. This was a great opportunity for a new principal to learn staff priorities and it turned out to be a great time for staff to get some insight into the new principal.

The three questions from the book are:
·         What makes this a great school?
·         What are some important things I should know about SLMS as the new principal?
·         What can we do to make this school better?

The four sessions I had with the faculty were great talks. From my pages of notes, I collected key priorities from different groups, points of pride and accomplishment as well as some possible goals for myself. The data I collected from my meetings will go a long way in goal setting and knowing how to proceed with staff and different groups.

I’m going to adapt this process and create some share time for me and my staff later this year. Protecting these share times is going to be a critical part in our collaboration and moving this school and our students forward.

[I’d also like to give a special shout out to my #edfocus PLN for introducing me to this book and hosting the chat as well as Dr. Marzano for joining us on Twitter last year to answer questions directly! Chalk this one up to another PLN experience directly affecting practice!]

Summer Leadership Conference Presentations

North Carolina’s Summer Leadership Conference was June 18th– 20th in Asheville NC. The conference is a great opportunity for NC school and district leaders to connect, share and learn new trends that will help grow schools and make a positive impact on student learning.
I was fortunate to have been approved for two sessions. I had an easy time coming up with the topics and developing the agendas because I tapped into my PLN for inspiration and help.
My first presentation was Developing Your PLN: An EssentialFunction of a 21st Century Administrator. This session focused on the value and need for school leaders to get connected! We used a TodaysMeet link as a backchannel and collective notetaking for both sessions!
There were a couple of highlights during this session I need to mention:
  • We had a several people start a Twitter account and begin their dive in getting connected!
  • Mention of #ncadmin – a growing Twitterchat several NC ed leaders are starting to get off the ground [regular discussions to come]
  • @MrBernia – I reached out to John, an active member in #edfocus and creator of several TwitterChats and local PLNs in his district. I shared with the group a recorded video/interview between me and John about how he uses Twitter to build his PLNs and connect with other administrators in his area. Great video – he brought a lot of value to my session! Below is his recorded video – if you plan on presenting to a group on building a PLN and want to share some relevant, real experiences I would encourage to either show this video or have John Skype in! Great value Add!
The second presentation was on Using Social Media to Improve Administrative Function. The theme of this session was how ‘social media lets you write your own narrative.’ This share session focused on how we can use social media innovatively to help school leaders with:
o   Promotion
o   Sharing and Building Vision
o   Teaching and Sharing
Again, an active member of my PLN, @northeagles, Bill Burkhead, joined in to share some of his impact experiences. Bill video chatted in using Google+ to talk about the class he developed and taught in his district on the value and use of social media in an educator’s growth. The course was a huge success and has a bigger demand this Fall. His expertise and first hand account gave credibility to our efforts in spreading the value of social media.
I can’t thank John and Bill enough for their participation! It would have been easily to discuss their work with the video or video chat but it added another level of authenticity to session to have these two difference makers ‘speak’ directly to our group. These five minute talks made a huge impact and helped begin the journey for some of our audience members to get connected.
This was a great experience! I’d like to thank the organizers for this event for hosting me. Its a rewarding feeling to help others get connected and see the value of getting connected! One of the entries on the TodaysMeet link was from an assistant principal who shared he didn’t know what social media was. I appreciate him sharing that. This is great validation in our work and commitment to help educators get connected!

First Day Goals of a New Principalship

I look forward to starting my new school, Spring Lake Middle, with great anticipation. This new journey is exhilarating and humbling and I take this responsibility seriously.
I have been thinking about my goals for my start at Spring Lake MS. This is a great school with a lot of good things going systems in place. But like in every school, there are always new points for improvement.
For my first weeks, I have put together some goals. These will be ongoing for some time. Establishing relationships and assuring everyone that I am accessible is a major priority. My goals will be to:
  • Work at becoming a Bronco Family member
  • Work at learning what makes Spring Lake Middle special
  • Meet with various stakeholders and community groups
  • Listen, Listen, Ask a couple of questions and Listen some more – @rbreyer51, A PLN member was recently sharing that he got his first assistant principal post on #edfocus. While he was receiving his congratulations, @MrBernia gave him a great piece of advice – ‘Listen more than you talk and be you’- succinct and impactful!

With the help of my assistant principals and front office staff, we have scheduled small group meetings with all the school staff members. Creating an opportunity for everyone to discuss what we are proud of as well as our needs and priorities will give us an opportunity to share and begin build our new working culture.

I’m looking forward to this first step in our new journey!

Final Blog as West Middle Principal

This is my last blog as the principal of West Middle School.
I’ve been away from my blog for a while but the last several months have been busy. In addition to our ending the school year, my family has been busy with our own transition, both my wife and daughter will be full time students. Its an exciting time but it is also marked with leaving our schools that have been a big part of our lives.
West Middle was my first principalship. With the hard work, sweats and laughs, the last 2.5 years has been a time I won’t forget and will always cherish.
I am fortunate to have been selected as a middle school principal in a district also in our RESA, Cumberland County Schools. I start as the instructional lead July 2nd. I’ve been there several times meeting with the outgoing Prinicpal, the Admin team and teachers and I couldn’t be more Thrilled! Everyone is friendly, smiling and all about the kids – what a great team!
It is sad to leave one family that I have helped grow and has continued to grow! You always want to leave a place in a better condition than when you arrived and through a lot of hard work we have done that.
I’m going to miss Montgomery County Schools, West Middle School and West Montgomery High School. Thanks guys! My five years have helped me and my family in ways words can’t express!

Game Changing Tool

   This has been a great week! March 4-6 has been the 2012 NC Middle School Conference in Greensboro. It has always been a great event meeting new people and hearing the rich, new information shared by experts from all over NC.

     The keynote this year was Dr. Willard Daggert, the CEO of the International Center for Leadership in Education. Dr Daggert is an entertaining and inspiring speaker. His keynote was a great speech on where we need to go in education, particularly since we are working with systems that were outdated 10 years ago.  His talk inspired a good number of us to attend his follow up discussion on the What, Why and How education change needs to come about. We can never hear enough about the need for change but his take on it was unique and eye-opening.

   I want to share an interesting piece he used to make some of us squirm in our seats a little [which I love]. He introduced us to WolframAlpha. WolframAlpha is an answer generating tool. If you type in a question or concept, it works to generate a specific solution for the question posed. Its important to note that this is not a search engine like Google or Yahoo wherein a concept is entered and the search engine searches the web for the different sites or content that relate to search topic. With WolframAlpha, if you search for an answer to a question, you get an answer – not a webpage!

   I downloaded and paid for the app on my phone and the description of the app started with how it parallels to the computer from Star Trek. If you’re a Trekkie you know that all you had to do was pose a question or problem to the computer and it would produce an answer in no time flat. WolframAlpha  is a step in that direction. I experimented with it today with some math problems. Daggett showcased ‘2 + 2’, I went deeper with ‘2x +6 = 10’, then ‘2x + 6y = 10’ and then I asked it to find the derivative of problem. For all of these, the answers given were not one word answers – they covered all angles and possible investigations a student or interested party would need or want to know.

   This is a game changer because we have to look at our practices and what we are doing in the classroom. If we are assigning simple answer problems, our kids have minimum work to do with WolframAlpha to find a simple solution.  WolframAlpha should be a motivator for us to do a better job at challenging kids.  I encourage every educator to play around with this tool. We should familarize ourselves with it because rest assured, our kids know about it. This is a great step for us in that this tool will help take care of the procedural work and allow us to focus on the higher order skill and strategies our students need to be challenged.

Best Practices – Playaways

This is a great best practice implemented in a 7th grade reading class.

As a former reading teacher, I was always cognizant of my reading to a class. Specifically, I was leary about always reading to the class because I didn’t want their internal reading voice to be my voice and I wanted them to hear how others read well and appreciate a diversity of abilities. Visiting Mr. Sweeney’s class brought a lot of that back. You will see him use a Playaway to help move his class along their novel, ‘Lord of the Flies.’

The @Playaway is a digitally recorded book on a small device that gives the reader/listener ability determine his/her own pace and placement in the book. Its not complicated tech but great for students. We have several playaways and often use them for individual students but this is a great, broader application. Mr Sweeney, 7th grade reading teacher, has attached the Playaway to his classroom speakers and allows the class to hear a very distinct voice read this classic. Again, this experience is not about whether Mr Sweeney can read a book aloud [even though he will never have the British accent in this video], its about implementing a strategy that facilitates him focusing his efforts on the next step while adding another experience for the readers.

There was some trepidation to bring ‘Lord of the Flies’ into 7th grade reading [I remember reading it in high school]. This divergent thinking helps us support kids in unique ways. After the large class read, individual students can take the @Playaway and go back to individual or small group reading to review and reinforce any material they would like to.

This is a creative way to bring challenging material into the class and support kids in reading a great book! [Piggy!!]